Weightlifting Psychology Tips: Is Your Head Focused On The Right Things?

Is Your Head Focused On The Right Things

Weightlifting Psychology Tips: Is Your Head Focused On The Right Things?

Pay Attention, or Pay the Price

People continue to undervalue the importance of their concentration in the gym – do you?

If you’re a powerlifter, it is you and the bar. The people in the crowd supporting you won’t lift that weight for you. “I have to lift this because they just lifted that!” Your competition won’t be the one lifting the weight for you either, but if you’re focusing on them, then they will be lifting that trophy!

If you’re a bodybuilder, it is you and the bar. You’re on poverty calories with 0% bodyfat, and some days you can’t even concentrate on your own thoughts, let alone the set you’ve got to complete. But focusing on when you’re next going to eat, isn’t going to lift that bar that’s in front of you right now.

If you’re a gym go-er of any kind, it is you and the bar. You’re worried about what other people in the gym are thinking about you, are they judging my form? Will I end up on one of those gym fail compilations? But they’re not lifting that weight for you.

When you’re in the gym, you need to be in the zone performing every exercise with intent.  This means tuning out irrelevant noise that surrounds you, and this can be very difficult do to for the entire one-hour gym session, but techniques such as positive self-talk, imagery, breathing techniques, and cue words can help you to get in that zone where it’s just you and the bar.

Attention Direction

You’re in the gym at 5 pm. The post-work rush is in full force. You have already fought one person off the only bench press rack in your gym after they tried to slide in ahead of the queue (No gym etiquette!). And now you’re about to start benching whilst the, “how many sets you got left bro?” people, are circling like vultures.

What are you focusing on?

There are a lot of things in this environment that will be trying to pull your attention away from the task at hand, lifting some big boy weights! Add to that the social pressure of those vultures counting every rep and set you complete so that they can jump on the moment you complete that last rep. It’s no wonder you can’t concentrate on your lifts.

Before we can develop the mental skills to direct our attention appropriately, I need you to engage in some self-awareness. Where’s my head at? What am I attending to? Is it the vultures surrounding you? Or is your focus placed too heavily on your execution of technique? Due to you not wanting to fail or mess up a lift in front of this crowded gym.

Once we know what we are attending to, be that externally or internally, we can then learn the correct mental skills to manage the intensity and direction of our focus!

Benching Pre-Performance Routine

No more failing reps because you caught someone’s eye in the mirror mid squat. Say goodbye to distractions and start training and performing with intent and focus.

Create a routine of task-directed attentional behaviours before each lift and during your setup. These routines need to be tailor-made for each lift, as there will be differences. Let me share with you an example of my pre-performance routine for my bench press:

  1. I stand at the end of the bench looking down at the bar and weights. Here, I hold a power pose to increase my confidence, whilst using visual and kinaesthetic imagery manipulating sub-modalities such as size, colour, speed, and temperature to influence my psycho-physiological state. Throughout I am engaging in rhythmic breathing.
  2. I will then sit at the end of the bench with my back to the weight. Here I stamp my feet once to initiate the thought-stopping process and reduce cognitive load.
  3. From here I fill this space with cue words for the set-up of my bench.
    • Fingers, this is the position my hands go on the bar combined with pulling myself under the bar.
    • Chest, this is engaging in costal breathing, filling my chest with air to help increase my arc, whilst pulling myself up to the bar.
    • Arc, this helps exaggerate the motion of arcing my back, whilst I pinch back my scapula and drive them into the bench, aligning my eyes with the bar.
    • Feet, lowering my feet from the bench I put my heels flat, raise my bum, and push back with my feet, pushing my shoulders further into the bench.
    • Strong, before I un-rack I chant this word, as this is the desired emotional state, I want to feel. Simultaneously, I will flood my mind with previous experiences of doing this lift from my ‘cookie jar’ to boost my confidence.
    • Tight, once the weight is unracked I lower my bum to the bench ensuring that my heels stay down, and my scapula retracted. I will also look to feel some tension in my lats.
    • I continue to chant this word, ‘strong’, during my set, and I will use the cue, ‘shoulders’, when I am struggling to initiate the bar movement over my shoulders to finish the rep.

Throughout the set-up, I will take one steady, deep breath starting on each cue word.  This process is individualised to me.  If you have your own routine, please feel free to share it by emailing your thoughts to [email protected] 

Or if you would like help developing these routines, and enhancing your focus in the gym or whilst competing, then please get in touch now.

To help you express yourself or create space feel free to join our online community – THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY HUB – for regular Sports Psychology tips, podcasts, motivation and support.

Robin Hughes

Best Wishes 

Robin Hughes

Mental Skills Performance Coach and Sports Counsellor located near Chelmsford, Essex, UK supporting powerlifters, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts worldwide with Online Sports Psychology Services.  

E: [email protected]

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